Lara Jean’s relationship to romance novels is not unlike mine to movies in my teen years. She’s a romantic lacking the confidence socially to position herself in a way to show it. She fantasizes about the love stories in her books by creating her own versions in her head with characters from her own world. This pastime gives her the imagination and vocabulary to pen such eloquent love letters to her crushes of which she, of course, never sends. It’s more fun to think about those things than to act on them. Duh! But when the letters get out, Lara Jean, played by the refreshing Lana Condor, is forced to put herself out there in ways she’s always feared.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the kind of teenage romantic comedy I used to crave when I was that age. I loved imagining my life a rosy rom-com with this girl or that — peers that, like this main character, I was sometimes close friends to, but just as often not even in the same social circle with — and it playing out exactly (specifically, as happily) as it did on the screen. In this case, I loved how it, written for the screen by Sofia Alvarez based on the book by Jenny Han, sees teens’ first loves. Here, Lara Jean is personally embattled, sorting between her new but real feelings for one guy and the ones she’s imagined for years having for another but that may be either fading or projected. Trying to understand that, while resisting the latter? It’s something so real. Very little can be as all-at-once scary and confusing as that, at that age. All of those romantic books and movies are terrific fantasies, of course. The real-good ones, like this, become brighter, coming-of-age stories by tapping into the vulnerable, internalized scariness of sudden love when it isn’t what you expected and, here, how one introverted while extremely likable 11th grader deals with it. It takes me back to when that was me.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: ★★★